Trials and tests of 5G mobile networks are advancing rapidly as the major network equipment providers including Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia invest heavily in R&D and partnerships.
US mobile carriers are at the forefront of 5G technology adoption and Verizon Communications recently announced a pre-commercial pilot to be launched in 11 US cities in the first half of 2017. Also, AT&T is set to launch 5G wireless services in 2017 in the its “5G evolution markets” Indianapolis and Austin in the US. According to GSMA’s annual industry survey, the first commercial deployments are expected in 2020, which also marks the deadline set by 3GPP to submit the final 5G standard specifications.
In contrast to its predecessors, 5G adoption is less likely to be driven by the demand for faster broadband speeds in markets where broadband and 4G services are widely available. In the lead-up to the launch of 5G services, mobile industry leaders share the view that the identification of use cases within vertical industries will be paramount. The need for closer collaborations between the telecom industry and vertical industries was highlighted by Ericsson’s CTO Ulf Ewaldsson at the “5G Beyond the Hype” session at MWC 2017, stating that “We have to prove that 5G will be relevant. We have to tie in with other industries”.
For the industrial sector, 5G technologies present a range of new opportunities. Remote control of heavy machinery, factory automation, remote operation and real-time monitoring of processes were some of the use cases envisioned by companies at this year’s MWC. Mines, power plants, oil platforms and construction sites present an abundance of risks to workers. The bandwidth availability of 5G may for example enable an engineer to remotely repair a pipeline by controlling a robot over the network using a high definition video feed. Robots, drones and vehicles can be remotely operated for monitoring applications at industrial plants, warehouses and construction sites. Real-time automation can be achieved for manufacturing processes utilising intelligent collaborating machines which require low delays and very low error probabilities. In the session “The Fourth Industrial Revolution”, Nokia’s CEO Rajeev Suri further illustrated the ability of humans safely working alongside autonomous machines as the low latency enables immediate standstill of machinery in various situations of worker involvement. With the right system design, 5G connectivity can deliver an increased level of safety and higher efficiency of operations.
Although the 5G standard is far from being finalised, the telecom industry is in need of customer stories. To prove the advantage of 5G, mobile operators have the chance to partner with companies in vertical industries to build strong business cases. The fourth industrial revolution – comprising integration of various machines, systems and organisations – presents a real need for 5G services to meet the challenges of real-time automation and massive sensor deployments in safety critical systems.
Fredrik Stålbrand, Berg Insight
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